I have written previously about my disdain for a new legalism imposed by some Christians on our health and fitness pursuits, as though anything makes us acceptable before God other than the blood of Christ. My intent was to safeguard the Gospel and free people from thinking that they are lesser if they do not hold up to new cultural fitness standards that are merely adding unnecessary burdens to our backs. Here I stand, wanting the freedom of the Gospel.
Pleasing God in Our Fitness, Part 2
Yet Paul also has to safeguard the Gospel from licentiousness, which is precisely that of which he is accused of preaching. “Should we sin then, that grace may abound?” The preaching of the Gospel brings about this question, which is non-sensical to those who truly believe. Another way of framing the question is to ask if a Christian can ever even please the Father.
When it comes to fitness and health, should we throw discretion and wisdom to the wind because we can’t please God anyway?
Yet the Scriptures make it clear that we can please God!
This rubs some of us the wrong way who have come to realize that we have nothing to bring before God, that our only hope and standing before God is through the perfect work of Jesus Christ.
A misunderstanding of the what we will try to unfold below will lead to licentiousness and thinking we can live any way we desire without consequences because we are accepted by God in Jesus Christ, or, on the other hand, can lead to adding false guilt if we are adding rules that are not in the Bible, such that we may feel that every food that touches the palate is either sin or pleasure to God.
So what gives?! Where do we begin to unravel these difficulties?
The issue is that we are talking about two separate subjects – one subject regards entrance into God’s family and being made from an enemy into a son or daughter, while the other subject has to do with whether and how a child pleases the Father.
The first is the state of people apart from Christ, which is as enemies of God. The infinitely holy and just God cannot be satisfied by a person’s effort, so all stand condemned on their own.
The second issue we are talking about is a person whom God has rescued, whom He has graciously taken from being His enemy and called His son or daughter, which has only happened because the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God has taken their place, to no merit of their own.
Once the transfer has taken place, then we can ask whether a son or daughter of God can be pleasing to Him. It is an error to think that nothing we do matters, since we cannot please God on our own. This is part of the error Paul is combatting (i.e. that we can sin so that grace may abound; Rom 6:1-2). “May it never be!” It doesn’t make any sense! Of course, one who truly understands the grace of God, who has tasted that the gracious God is now his/her Father, wants to please Him!
Yet how can we be pleasing, when we particularly feel the weight of our temptation and sin daily? Recently, I’ve been reminded of a couple different avenues…
I was reminded through On the Road with Saint Augustine (James K. A. Smith), that Augustine found true freedom within the boundaries of God’s design. Like many of us, Augustine pursued joy outside of God and found it promising happiness and leaving him empty. The lie is that freedom from God is where joy is to be found, whereas, actually freedom in God is where true happiness lies (See chapter entitled “Freedom: How to Escape”).
Like a house dog who grows up without rules is unhappy indoors, so is a person whose mind has been trained to find joy without God, and simply ends up wild and unsatisfied. As a well-trained dog can function at the pinnacle of its breed, from consistent training to do what it was designed to do, so also Augustine found the truest and deepest freedom when functioning within God’s boundaries.
This ultimately flowed over, for example, into the Protestant view of sexual pleasure, which is that God is the Creator of such pleasures within His boundaries, not the suppressor of pleasure, and that people can find the fullness of His designed pleasures, without all of the hurt and heartbreak, when enjoyed within His designed boundaries.
Yet how can we rejoice in rules? Doesn’t everything within us revolt at the idea of rules? Don’t rules inherently make us feel as though we will not be pursuing joy?
Hashing this out reminded me of the third use of the Law. Some shy away from the Scriptures and thus Christianity because of “all of the rules” that they cannot follow. Indeed, every genuine Christian also feels this weight of the Law, which is considered the first use of the Law, generally, which one must understand in order to grasp the marvelous saving work of the Gospel. Knowing that we are sinners who stand condemned before a holy God is necessary before casting oneself in repentance at the feet of Christ, who alone has fulfilled all of the Law. The Law ushers in a right understanding of the Gospel. The second use of the Law is its “civil use,” to restrain evil and to help inhibit the unleashing of evil in society, in general.
Having painted a broad background, let us focus now on the third use of the Law, which is to guide the Christian into understanding who God is and how to please the Father. One can see how easily the first and third uses of the Law can be mistaken. The first use shows one’s absolute inability to keep all of the commands of God, proves one’s sinfulness, and is the premise for accepting the Gospel; the third use is for the believer to know and love God (see the Heidelberg Catechism, Questions 114-115, for a summary).
The reason I bring up these truths then is threefold – (1) to help us escape the new legalistic rules often put forward by Christian health and fitness advocates (which we will explore more specifically as time goes on), (2) to free us to come to Christ as our only righteousness, and (3) to find true freedom in Christ (as Augustine and the third use of the Law mentioned above) as we seek to understand who He is and to adjust our lives to the objective truths He has revealed in His Word and His world.
I belabor these points because we are safeguarding the Gospel in the health and fitness realm! Practically speaking, we must be wary of any “Christian” health and fitness philosophy that adds to our burden rather than encourages our freedom to enjoy more of God. Does it say you have to lose X amount of pounds or match some 21st-century ideal of a man or woman rather than focusing on your freedom in Christ? Does it advertise some secret pharmaceutical or natural remedy that takes your eyes of Christ? Does it bring greater bondage and fatigue to your life and will become an obstacle rather than a facilitator of your greater joys in God?
If so, then these may be signs that what has been called “Christian” is taking you away from Christ. Let us then cast off all that would detract us from greater joys in Christ and wisely use all things that would help us please Him more fully, which we will continue to seek to unpack.